Bible blog 1864




33 Next they said to him, “Yochanan’s disciples are always fasting and saying prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but yours go on eating and drinking.” 34 Yeshua said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is still with them? 35 The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; and when that time comes, they will fast.” 36 Then he gave them an illustration: “No one tears a piece from a new coat and puts it on an old one; if he does, not only will the new one continue to rip, but the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 Also, no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins and be spilled, and the skins too will be ruined. 38 On the contrary, new wine must be put into freshly prepared wineskins. 39 Besides that, after drinking old wine, people don’t want new; because they say, ‘The old is good enough.’”

The background to the passage about the Bridegroom is Isaiah 62, in which God is depicted as the bridegroom of Israel and the time of their maraige as one of great joy. It’s possible that in Jesus original words, this passage referred to God as the bridegroom, while the gospel tradiition has seen Jesus himself as the messiah-bridegroom and has perhaps added the bit about the time when he will be taken away. Luke uses the controversy to point up the joy of Jesus’ ministry through which God’s liberating love as made available to people. It’s a positive answer to those who demanded more discipline, “It’s a wedding for goodness’ sake!” Joy is the default mode of the believers; unnecessary fasting and other disciplines are seen as playing at faith. Sober realism tells the believers that there will be times when fasting and prayers are needed for survival.

The memory of the joy created by Jesus is deeply embedded in the tradition. Mark, who is Luke’s main source, and Matthew who also uses Mark, present the controversy in similar terms. But there a distinctive differences when it comes to the parables of the patches and the wineskins.

The earliest version is Mark 2: 18-22, which is clear about the patch problem: it involves unshrunk cloth being used to patch an old garment. On the first wash the patch will shrink while the old garment won’t and will therefore tear away. This is a clear image of the difficulty of trying to patch up an old tradition with new material. Jesus is seen by Mark as warning people against using his teaching to mend the Jewish tradition. The same point is made with reference to the zesty new wine which is likely to explode an old wineskin. The lively teaching of Jesus will simply destroy the Jewish tradition if the latter is used to contain it. A new community with new customs is needed for the new teachings.shrunk

Matthew 9: 14-17 uses much the same language but adds that if new skins are used for the new wine, both old and new wines can be preserved – a view that the way of Jesus and the  way of Moses might continue alongside each other.

Luke, on the other hand, botches the problem of the patch (perhaps he didn’t have a wife who could explain it to him!) and writes about puting a patch from  new coat on to an old one, (a strange thought) which in his view gives a better comparison between  the two teachings. When however he comes to the wineskins he adds a warning that only the new wine of Jesus is appropriate for believers, because those who taste the mellow old wine of Judaism will prefer it to the cheeky young beverage offered by Jesus!

These differences owe something to the way the different authors saw the relationship between faith in Jesus Messiah and the Jewish faith from which it had sprung. Mark  simply assumes that the two faiths are different: Jesus the bridegroom of Israel brings a new faith for a new time. Matthew’s gospel shows clear evidence of bitterness between traditional Jews and followers of Jesus. Historically we know that after the destruction of Temple in 70CE, orthodox synagogues gradually expelled followers of Jesus. Still Matthew is hopeful that both communities may exists alongside each other and flourish; whereas for Luke, Judaism has become a dangerous teaching that might take people away from Jesus.

The passages all reflect the distinctive joy created by Jesus’ ministry; people believed that in him God’s goodness was made available to them. This is the heart of specifically Christian faith: the conviction that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth God’s goodness was and is transmitted to men and women. Both the source and the channel of this goodness are important but this passage emphasises that it is the goodness itself that brings the joy.

wineskimThe parables about the cloth and the wine underline the radicality of Jesus’ Way; it cannot be combined with other Ways because it has not been adjusted to the world’s demands (shrunk) not mellowed to the world’s taste (old wine) but retains its own dimensions and its own sharp creativity.

Last week the Archbishop of Canterbury tried to put the new wine of Jesus’ welcome to people of different sexual orientations into the old wineskins of world-wide Anglicanism. It didn’t work and may lead to the break up of the Anglican communion. He didn’t represent the joy brought by the Bridegroom of the Church  (is that a sexual orientation, by the way?) and the effervescent challenge of his welcome to all.

The Oxfam  Report quoted in the headline above, may indicate that the charity itself is asking whether it has been trying to patch up an economic system that is hostile to its aims.


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